Why this Brexiteer is in favour of immigration

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In 2014 I wrote for Conservative Home in defence of the Government’s immigration policy. Then I said that we had the right tough policies on immigration but were failing to get the message across.

I was wrong. We had the right policies but a combination of European law and political expediency prevented them from being implemented.

Don’t get me wrong. If we didn’t argue so much my family could easily be mistaken for a UN Multinational Peacekeeping force. Born in Hounslow I’m the child of new immigrants, my wife is a Korean national, my sons were born in Hong Kong and I’ve spent a large part of my working life outside of Britain.

Given this background you’ll think that of course I’m in favour of open borders and unrestricted immigration. There, however, you’d be wrong and you’d be wrong about the majority of immigrants who I’ve talked to on this issue. And. As the former Parliamentary Candidate for Walsall North and a resident of Bedfordshire and London, I get to meet a lot of immigrants.

Yes. They and I are in favour of immigration but we’re in favour of intelligent and carefully managed immigration. What we want is an immigration policy which is open and allows a continuous inflow but which is fair and enriches existing citizens culturally and economically.

Of the many facets of immigration, two of the most important are economics and equity. Let’s start with equity and the reason so many working people in Walsall are against immigration whilst those in Westminster and the City are for. The right to live, work and claim benefits in the UK is something that every European Union citizen is entitled to. Notwithstanding the temporary brake negotiated with great effort and courage by the Prime Minister, EU citizens can still send child benefit home, they can claim British levels of income support and once the ‘brake’ is off they’ll be able to claim benefits on arrival.

It’s true that the vast majority of new arrivals from the EU are coming to work and usually with a job waiting. A majority don’t claim income support and, on balance, EU immigration has probably increased GDP. I have no problem accepting that fact. Yet since the global financial crisis, median personal income in Britain, as in the Eurozone, has been flat or even falling in real terms even as overall GDP has shown reasonable growth.

GDP going up doesn’t mean individual income going up. National income can rise if there are more people working in a country but it doesn’t mean that all workers are better off. In fact immigration puts downward pressure on wages, particularly for the poor, and increases profits for the rich. Therefore it’s no surprise that big business and the elites are those most unanimously in favour of open borders with Europe. There are no doubt good reasons for “sensible” people to be a part of Europe but they should be honest about the fact that importing labour increases income inequality whilst still allowing those in Government to manage a “bigger” economy.

The first duty of government is to it’s own people. By “importing” labour from Europe, governments of all parties have been able to dodge their duty to address Britain’s long-term unemployed and our relatively low skill-base compared to other developed countries. Fixing problems with our own education system, benefits and social care is so much easier to avoid when we can go with the easier alternative of encouraging immigration and growing the economy at the same time. Easier but wrong.

Also wrong is the preference given to Europe over the rest of the world. Australia with its points system has controlled but growing immigration. More than 25% of its population was born abroad, a figure only exceeded in Britain by cosmopolitan London. However the pressures of a growing population on social services, health, education and housing are all much easier to resolve when you have working immigrant arrivals who contribute more to the whole than they take out. Australian personal income and median personal income have both risen strongly despite strong immigration. This is a win-win alternative not a zero-sum game.

So if we leave Europe and had control over our own borders what should immigration policy be? Well it shouldn’t be to close our doors and turn in to a Little England. Britain, and England especially, has always been the ‘mongrel half-bred race’ that Daniel Defoe described in the 18th century. Britain has always been an open, internationally mixed nation and we’re better at integration than most. It is one of our competitive advantages and, intelligently and fairly, we should play to it. Immigrants should be welcome provided they respect our values, add to our economy and to median incomes.

Yes. Let’s keep free movement of Europeans to our country. If they can get a job and they’re better qualified then Brits then let them have the job. Do not, however, make them a citizen and do not subsidise them by paying benefits. How can it be fair that immigrant labour is able to price itself below British workers because of child benefit paid outside Britain or by providing housing from local authorities?

For non-EU residents, let them know too that we are open for business. If someone can get a job that pays above our median income, is willing to pay tax and make our economy grow then let’s take them. A points and skills based system is not racist, it’s not preferential, it judges all people fairly and objectively based on their skills and not where they were lucky or unlucky enough to be born.

When it comes to passports and the granting of citizenship, we should be even more exclusive. In Britain we so often equate working here or the right of abode with a relatively easy ability to get a passport. I had to keep my nose clean in Hong Kong for 7 years to get permanent right of residency and there was no question of winning a Chinese passport. Likewise in the Arabian Gulf, you can live for many many years but once you stop working you have to return to your home country. “Being born an Englishman is to win the lottery of life”. The rest of the world recognises that, why can’t we? By handing out passports too quickly we show a lack of respect to our own country.

In a world in which 1 billion people still live on around GBP1 a day, we will always have those that want to come here. No resident of the EU lives in that degree of poverty. Ethically and economically there is no reason why we should give priority to EU citizens over the most talented and deserving in a global population of 7 billion. If the 500 million, relatively prosperous residents of the EU, can answer that question then I’ll happily reconsider my position as an outer. As it is, we can’t put our heads in the sand and ignore the literally billions of people, many of them extremely worthy and deserving, who want to come to our small island. Any responsible Government should acknowledge this fact and articulate a fair plan for dealing with this challenge. A plan which should benefit both our own existing population and those that have the ambition and drive to join us. Leaving the EU would be the first step in this process. The day after Brexit we as a nation then need to debate and agree the best immigration policy. This outer for one, hopes that this great international country remains open but, even better, honest, intelligent and fair.

VIADouglas Hansen-Luke
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Douglas Hansen-Luke is the former Parliamentary Candidate for the target seat of Walsall North. He worked in Hong Kong and the Middle East for investment banks and assets managers. He now advises sovereign funds on best-practice asset allocation and impact investing.

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